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Author Topic: A Categorization of Magic Systems (long)  (Read 5275 times)
The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
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Posts: 16


« on: April 16, 2004, 06:26:21 PM »

This is a first stab at trying to map out the possible metaphysics of magic in gaming.  This list is in no way normative and if anyone comes up with something that I have missed, please let me know.  I have looked to rp games and literature which feature magic, as well as the real world.  It should be pointed out that that these categories can be in-game and/or out-of-game explanations.  And the two may not be the same; the characters may believe that magic works in one way, while the players know that it actually works in another way.  And, of course, there may be multiple out-of-game explanations as easily as multiple in-game explanations.  The original MAGE was an example of multiple in-game explanations with one out-of-game metaphysic.  Subsequent editions only complicated that (needlessly, IMHO, but let’s skip that).

My hope is that a source such as this will aid designers when devising magic systems.  It could be just a checklist to work through, but I would hope that it prompts more thought than that.  As many others have said before, magic should be an integral part of any game which uses it.  Magic is not just a whiz-bang add-on to a system (as some have suggested is the case with a game like Fulminata).  Thinking about why and how magic works, should provoke some serious thought about the gaming world itself and the game being played within it.  Whatever else it is about, magic is about power and any game featuring magic is a game about power: who has it and who does not, who wants it and what he’ll do to get it; what it can and what it can’t do.  Magic should be meaningful to a game; even if the meaning is that it is ultimately meaningless.

I have set-up a hierarchy of distinctions in this scheme, such that a large flowchart might be the ideal representation; ideal, that is, except in this format.  So, I’ll use something like an outline.  It should be noted that the very choice of which distinction is primary and which secondary is contingent upon game priorities.  The Internal-External distinction which I make primary might be secondary to another designer, with Natural-Unnatural taking its place.  I don’t see this as particularly problematic as long as all distinctions are considered at some point.  It’s just an attempt to make all possibilities clear to those designing magic systems.

--The first distinction is the source of magical power--

I. Externally-powered Magic
In this scheme, humans are essentially powerless, but in some manner or another are able to influence more powerful entities to produce effects.  The nature of those entities and of the means of influencing them provides further distinctions.  It should be noted that merely dealing with extra-dimensional beings and the like is not necessarily Type I magic; if the magus has some ability to summon these beings, then he is likely operating in Type II territory.  True Type I magic allows no magical power to the human.

--The second distinction is the naturalness of the entities with power--

I.A. Natural Entities
The beings influenced are in some broad sense natural to the setting.  They belong there (wherever there is) and there influence in the world is to be expected, if not necessarily common.  These beings are usually gods, angels, or spirits.   The influencing of them for magical effects may be considered praiseworthy and even a normal part of religion, as in shamanic healings or the miracles of the saints.  

But these magics are generally considered at least potentially dangerous and may be actively discouraged.  The “real” middle ages are full of magical texts on how to summon angels and get them to do things for you; they are often filled with the sternest warnings.  The in-out game explanations are evoked here as well: medieval practitioners of the Ars Notoria and the like believed that they were summoning angels to help them or the ghosts of the departed to communicate; theologians generally explained that these being were actually demons masquerading as angels or ghosts.  I see a lot of gaming potential in situations like this.

I.B. Unnatural Entities
The flip side of the previous category, these beings are alien in some way to the setting and their influence is to be feared or avoided by most people.  They are frequently called “demons” in the literature and in games, but that term may be considered as generic as “unnatural entities”.  In Judeo-Christianity and settings inspired by such (Middle-earth as perhaps the best example), demons are perversions of nature; natural entities who have twisted themselves or been twisted into unnatural beings.  In the pulp settings typified by R E Howard and H P Lovecraft, demons are aliens, invaders from another reality, whether distinguished by time or space (and thus possibly natural in a different setting).

The S&S work of Michael Moorcock is difficult to place in this context: are the Lords of the Higher Worlds natural or unnatural entities?  They seem to be the only gods going, and thus somehow natural, but the descriptions of them and the effects of dealing with them seem to me squarely in the “unnatural” category.  I don’t think separating Law and Chaos will suffice.  In the _Elric_ stories, the Elemental Gods and the Beast Lords almost seem to be the natural gods of the world, with the Higher Gods as late-coming invaders, but that distinction wouldn’t work for the world of Corum; the eventless destruction of all the gods at the end of the first trilogy and the rise of the Cold Gods in the second seem straight-forwardly unnatural to me.

--The third distinction is the means or method of manipualtion--

I.A/B.i.  Supplication
The practitioner has no real power over the entities, but can only ask for favors or aid.  This system thus relies on entities which have the interests of (some) people at heart.  One might suggest that worship is a part of supplication and that the “gods” do favors for worship and praise.  A more cynical perspective would place this in the category of “bargaining”, however.  The classical Protestant stance is that God can do anything for people, but he will only do so when He wants to, thus the most people can do is ask.  Some may not feel that this is a magic system at all, but I feel that it is, although never named as such.  If you ask the gods to come smite your enemies—and they do—I’d call that magic.

I.A/B.ii. Bargaining
The practitioner has no direct power, but has agency in relation to the entities.  In the real world, supplication often slides into implicit bargaining: “I’ll be a good person if you just help me out”.  Although the practitioner could understand this as Supplication, it isn’t if the entity expects the practitioner to hold up his end.  Some consider the offering and withholding of worship to be a form of bargaining.

Literature and games more often feature explicit bargaining and more frequently with unnatural entities.  The archetypal “dark cultist” strikes bargains with demons, often promising blood or souls in return for magical favors.  Elric generally falls into this category of activity in relation to Arioch.  With other beings, he influences them by means of ancient pacts and treaties, which are other forms of bargains, although his summoning of them places him in Type II category.  The sorcerer Thoth-amon in Howard possessed a magical Ring which allows him to call demons; one might argue that the Ring is the sign and seal of his bargainings with Set and that he cannot actually summon them, just as the Ark is said to be the sign and the seal of Yahweh’s covenant with the Israelites (and the Ark is truly powerful magic).

I.A/B.iii. Control
Although the magus has no magical power, he possesses some other form of power which allows him to control those beings who do possess magical power.  This often results in coercion of magical beings, although the exercise of power needn’t necessarily be adversarial.  The use of True Names to compel beings is found in Le Guin and numerous real world sources.  Sometimes magical circles constrain demons and they can only leave if they agree to serve the magus: this could be seen as a bargain, but effected under duress and thus properly coercive.  In “The Tower of the Elephant”, the sorcerer possesses the alien being’s heart and has an explicitly coercive relationship.

Medieval magic is again quite interesting in this regard.  Forgetting this issue of summoning for the moment, medieval demonology generally explains itself as functioning with God’s power: the mere sound of Christ’s name compels demons to agree with whatever the magus demands.  Thomas Aquinas, however, worked out the theory of the implicit pact to counter this.  The Angelic Doctor explained that demons only pretend to be compelled, but are actually acting on their own initiative.  Moreover, the mere action of dealing with a demon is an implicit pact (bargain) with them, since the magus obviously wants something from them and does not, in fact, possess the ability to coerce demons.  Another example of in-out game distinctions with the theologians definitely out-.

II. Internal-External Magic
The magus has some kind of power which lets him personally manipulate real-world forces.  This is far-and-away the most common metaphysic in literature and gaming and represented by the “spell-caster”.  By his knowledge, study, and/or magical initiation, the magus is able to create a spell, which, in turn, produces magical effects.  This sequence is easy to overlook, but important.  The internal component is supplied by the figure of the mage who does not call upon other beings to affect his working.  The external component is supplied by the spell, which operates according to some kind of rules or formula.  If the magus could do anything that he wanted he would be in the next category (purely internal).  Magic is this category is always a technology, although it is frequently not acknowledged as such.

This metaphysic dominates the game scene, due, in part, to the influence of Vance and Tolkien.  Vance made the technological nature of magic very clear; the definition in _Rhialto the Marvelous_ is perfect in this regard.  D&D and its many successors followed his route such that the magus in D&D is, essentially, a fantasy equivalent of Batman’s utility belt.  Though not quite so coherent as Vance’s, Gygax’s metaphysic in the _Player’s Handbook_  is decidedly technological.

Tolkien, on the other, hand is much more folkloric in his treatment of magic (for obvious reasons) and his spells are often more akin to poems than Bat-grenades, but he is quite willing to discuss Dooms and Enchantments as “things” enacted by people.  Poetry is a technology just as much as Bat-grenades are.

Most real world magic falls into this category, from Roman curse-scrolls to medieval grimoires to modern Wicca; all see the magus as accessing some force.   And mentioning that, I should add that the Force is in this category as well, as the force manipulated by the Jedi (that was a bit confusing).

II.A/B. Natural-Unnatural Forces
I’m not entirely sure that this distinction holds much weight in this category; all of the examples that come to mind are natural forces.  The Earthsea books are a good example of this category with the added interest of opposing the wizards to those who serve the Old Powers (Type II.A. vs. Type I.B.i).  There might be some examples of magi manipulating unnatural forces, but I can’t think of any as such.  One could argue that the powers of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings are perversions of natural forces, much as he himself is the perversion of a natural being, but I’m unclear on this.

II.A/B.i. Discrete Manipulations
Each effect is a distinct act.  Virtually all magics in games fall into this method; this is the classic spell.  The magus performs a discrete action (chanting, gesturing, etc.) which produces a corresponding result: doing A, B, and C shoots a big ball of fire, while doing D, E, and F makes you fly.  I won’t even bother with the examples since this category is so familiar (if not, go read D&D and then return).

II.A/B.ii.  Comprehensive Manipulations
The much-less frequent category has magi manipulating some all-pervasive force rather than individual forces.  The obvious example here is the Force, while another, somewhat surprisingly, is the metaphysic from Asprin’s Myth books.   The Earthsea magics are a harder case to make; I’m tempted to say that they make a distinction between what seems to most people to be going on (spells) and what the true wizard understands (manipulating the Balance); an in-out game analog.  If psychic powers manipulate the laws of the cosmos, such as Phoenix causing fires by speeding up molecular motion, then they would fall into this category as well.  If they practitioner’s mind operates directly upon the universe, ignoring any outside laws or forces, then it more properly falls into Type III below.

III. Internally-powered Magic
This is magic which is powered only by the actor without any mediating forces.  That is to say, it is the caster directly reshaping reality to his will.  This is far and away the least common metaphysic for magic in literature or games, WW’s MAGE being the notable exception.  But even here, the in-game explanation is usually Type I or II and constraints are placed upon the free operation of Type III in the form of paradox and the need for foci.  

This is much more common among real-world practitioners with Aleister Crowley being perhaps the best-known spokesman if you don’t count Don Juan Matus as real.  But note that even in this case, there is a frequent distinction between what is “really” going on to the initiate (out-of-game analog) and the exoteric talk of rituals, angels, naguals, and the like (in-game analog).

III.A/B.
There can be no real Natural-Unnatural distinction in this metaphysic since the reshaping of reality essentially redefines nature.  Nevertheless, there is the sense that some workings are in consonance with already-existing reality (just pushing things along a bit) while others workings are horrible twistings of reality that bear correspondingly greater risks.  I’ll note here Crowley’s talk about Inner Nature and Casteneda’s similar discussions; the true magus must act in accordance with his Being or Self.  I find this logically incoherent, but no one said magic systems need to be logical.

III.A/B.i. Intransitive Methods
The magus manipulated reality to himself, not to the rest of the world.  If Type III is the least-frequently employed magic explanation, than this subcategory is the least popular of all.  Still, it has received a lot of attention among academics in the real world as a way to explain why perfectly rational people might believe in magic.  Magic becomes for them a form of self-hypnosis.  Carlos Castenda makes essentially the same point, except the he believes that the results are not necessarily delusory.  The episode in _Don Juan_ where Carlos believes himself to be a bird is a good example of intransitive magic.

This magic may be very simple personal suggestion or involve complex rituals, drugs, etc.  Since it is so under-used in gaming, I suspect that there are very interesting uses of this metaphysic just waiting for designers.

III.A/B.ii.  Transitive Methods

The magus manipulates all of reality, not only his own.  Aside from MAGE, the obvious  example is _The Matrix_.  Another possibility that comes to mind is the French game _Reve de Dragon_, wherein life is a dream and magi have learned to influence the dreamer, although this may be more properly Type II.A.ii.

Well, that's as much as my brain can do today.  Hope this proves useful to anyone, if just to disagree with.
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I have this wonderful plan for world domination. Pretty much. At least in theory. Or some ideas, at any rate.

O.K., I've got nothing.
Ben O'Neal
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Posts: 294


« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2004, 12:16:19 AM »

Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't this thread be in RPG Theory?
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2004, 06:09:54 PM »

Ravien is correct that this should be in theory--it's not about the design of a specific game. Welcome to the Forge, Dr. Samsara; it helps to read the stickies and explore a bit, but I'm sure that our moderators will pop this over to the appropriate forum soon enough.

I've got a couple of points to make in response.

Quote from: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
Whatever else it is about, magic is about power and any game featuring magic is a game about power: who has it and who does not, who wants it and what he'll do to get it; what it can and what it can't do.  Magic should be meaningful to a game; even if the meaning is that it is ultimately meaningless.

I don't know that I exactly disagree; I certainly would not say that this is not true about magic. What I would say, though, is that it is not more true about magic than it is about anything else in the game.

Multiverser treats magic skills just like any others--you learn to do them, you practice them, you get good at them, you use them. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I don't see how a spell that throws fire is any more (or less) about power than a flamethrower, or a mental ability to generate heat or flame, or a simple biological ability to belch hydrogen and ignite it with a spark from an organ in your mouth as it is vented.

I agree that in some games, in some worlds, and in some stories, magic is very much about power; but then, so is technology, and so is strength, and so is political position and influence. In a particular context, magic can be the focus of questions about power; but in a different context (such as Xanth, perhaps) it can be mere color to give us a fantasy realm feel while the real power issues are elsewhere.

Quote
--The first distinction is the source of magical power--

I understand that the layout of this material is not in the format you would have preferred; however, I find it a bit difficult to respond to, for example, type I without having the explanation of type II close at hand for comparison. Let me resequence a few things, then, to help.

Type one:
Quote
I. Externally-powered Magic
In this scheme, humans are essentially powerless, but in some manner or another are able to influence more powerful entities to produce effects.

Type two:
Quote
II. Internal-External Magic
The magus has some kind of power which lets him personally manipulate real-world forces....By his knowledge, study, and/or magical initiation, the magus is able to create a spell, which, in turn, produces magical effects....If the magus could do anything that he wanted he would be in the next category (purely internal).  Magic is this category is always a technology, although it is frequently not acknowledged as such.

And I would have missed type three:
Quote
III. Internally-powered Magic
This is magic which is powered only by the actor without any mediating forces.

This distinction makes very little sense to me overall; not that I don't see how you are making it, but rather that you have seriously excluded the bulk of what I would consider magic and included many things I would consider not magic.

I agree that petitioning or controling or otherwise contacting some supernatural being, be it God or demon on djinn or fairy or any other being, is a form of magic. I'd call it "holy magic", because it is essentially religious in nature--the only magic on the part of the practitioner is the ability to contact the one who actually does the magic.

However, you label your second category as "technology", and by this I think you reveal an assumption that such magic is a tapping of natural laws. I object. I think that such magic is a tapping of supernatural laws.

That is, my distinction would lie here: if the power that causes the results comes from outside the natural realm, from another dimension (presumably a supernatural one, that is, one above this and so able to make direct impact on it) then it is magical. If the power is inherent in this world, then it is not magic.

You claim that because the performance of ritual brings specific effects, it must be tapping natural energies or laws of the natural universe; you also suggest that if the practitioner can do anything at all, it moves to your third category. However, Multiverser magic-users can indeed do anything they can imagine to do, by constructing rituals that make sense within their understanding of how magic ought to work, without any of that power coming from themselves. Your third category, to the degree that it claims the power comes from within the caster, would under Multiverser definitions be not magic at all, but psionics--the power comes from within the mind or soul or spirit of the person exercising it.

Thus the problem I have with your distinction at this level is that I don't see how type II magic is different from technology, even though clearly it is in many cases, and I don't see how type III magic is different from psionics, which seem to me to be entirely different in the literature.

Now, perhaps my problem with your analysis is merely that I have a specific definition of "magic" which you do not accept; on the other hand, I don't see a clear definition of "magic" in your presentation, and the way these divisions are presented it would appear that you do not really distinguish it by any factor other than perhaps "cool stuff happens that couldn't happen in our world" (a definition which many religious people of many different faiths would reject) or "the book labels these things magic" (which is going to get you into the problem that some books are going to say that the definition of magic in others is incorrect).

I agree that supplication is magic; it is so treated in Multiverser.

I hope that my responses have clarified the task a bit for you. Perhaps you could provide a definition of "magic" that includes everything you would put in that category and excludes everything you would not? That would help immensely in understanding what you are attempting.

--M. J. Young
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greyorm
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2004, 08:11:58 PM »

Quote
magic is a tapping of supernatural laws

And to throw a whole 'nother bone into this discussion: I consider truly fantastical magic to be circumvention of laws (whether those be natural or supernatural (whatever that might be)).

So, you stop the sun in the sky over one particular place for eight extra hours. Elsewhere, the sun continues on its normal course. Tomorrow, it rises at the correct time.

Doesn't make sense? Yep. Magic. Circumventing natural law and even logic.

The planet doesn't stop. Time isn't dialated. It's just...magic. It ignores reality rather than working within it. (Tangentially, I love that kind of magic because it sends science geeks who are also fantasy gamers into apoplectic fits.)

So, in addition to what it does, magic might be categorized as "how it does it."
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2004, 09:51:00 PM »

Whereas, conversely, I would argue that Magic is, by the definition of natural laws, in line with natural laws, simply because anything that interacts with the physical world at all (even human perception) is explicable by natural law, even if those natural laws require magical or divine assumptions which are out of line with what we consider to be "science."

If magic works, it is natural.

Dr. Samsara, I think (perhaps pursuant to this) that I don't understand the difference between your type II and type III magics -- they both seem like different sorts of internally generated magic...  Further, how would you classify something like a granted prayer where there is no prayer or ritual -- you just think it and it is done by God.  That looks a lot like type II or III, but is in fact type I.  Is the line drawn solely by the intention of the practioner?  In that case, what if someone believes that they are supplicating an external power but are actually merely using their internal abilities?

yrs--
--Ben
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simon_hibbs
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« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2004, 06:56:38 AM »

I feel compelled to come to Dr. Samsara's defence...

Quote from: M. J. Young
That is, my distinction would lie here: if the power that causes the results comes from outside the natural realm, from another dimension (presumably a supernatural one, that is, one above this and so able to make direct impact on it) then it is magical. If the power is inherent in this world, then it is not magic.


That depends on how you define 'the world'. Surely in this sense 'the world' is all of creation, in which case talking about other worlds or planes is just talking about different parts of creation. Sure these different parts of creation interact with each other in different ways, but surely those modes of interaction are just as much 'natural' laws as any other interactions.

Quote
Thus the problem I have with your distinction at this level is that I don't see how type II magic is different from technology, even though clearly it is in many cases


I don't see why. Technology is just learning how to apply the laws of nature to achieve a goal. If the 'law of similarity' is a natural law (and what other kind of law is there?) then learning to apply is in specific ways to acheive a reproducible effect is a technology. True, the term technology is a loaded one that carries a lot of baggage with it, and I'm not entirely sure that using it in this way is very helpful, but there's nothing intrinsicaly wrong with doing so. IMHO worrying about it is a distraction.

Quote from: Greyorm
And to throw a whole 'nother bone into this discussion: I consider truly fantastical magic to be circumvention of laws (whether those be natural or supernatural (whatever that might be)).


How would you define Nature?

I'm with Ben. Nature in this context is just another way of talking about the world, or creation and the processes thereof. Whenever people talk about somethign being un-natural, it's always because they have some political, moral or philosophical (or in this case metaphysical) agenda.

Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
greyorm
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My name is Raven.


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« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2004, 11:07:50 AM »

Quote
I'm with Ben. Nature in this context is just another way of talking about the world, or creation and the processes thereof. Whenever people talk about somethign being un-natural, it's always because they have some political, moral or philosophical (or in this case metaphysical) agenda.

I'm with Ben as well...my agenda in this case is literary.

Real magic, the kind practiced by occultists, magicians, and pagans in our actual world, I consider to be "natural" bar-none (ignoring issues of whether or not it works for the moment), for the very reasons Ben details; and I further agree with your assessment of folks using the word "un-natural" and their reasons for doing so.

So, let's step away from the real world for a moment, and into the world of literature, fiction and myth, and thus gaming, this is where I'm talking about setting up a definition of "magic" as something unnatural and fantastical, seperated from "the laws" (of anywhere or anything) for literary reasons and thematic meaning.

As such, it does stand as a possible "source" or definition which seperates the above categories even further. One could, for example, create a fictional world where there was "natural" magic and "unnatural" magic.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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FredGarber
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« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2004, 11:47:41 AM »

A few things to add to the discussion:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Magic."  That's a paraphrase of an Arthur C. Clarke quote, because I don't want to Google it up. Jack Chalker's Flux novels are about this exactly: <<spoiler?>> A "magic" system in the first two books is explaned as incomplete terraforming by nanobots in the third book.

And

"Magic is just circumventing the Laws of Physics," which I will attribute to my dad, although he may have "borrowed" that quote from somewhere :)  For him, all powers that broke the laws of Inertia, Conservation of Matter/Energy, and other such physics things counted as "magic."  So he could enjoy some fantasy novels where the Magic had a defined set of rules, even if the author never fleshed them out.

And

"Magic is just another set of tools."  No attribution.  Some games have "Magic" as another way to get results.  For example, a mechanic might fix the car with his Mechanic skill, and a Wizard might fix it with a Repair spell.  Same outcome, different methods.  The Hero System (re: Champions) does a lot of this : the "special effect" and some of the modifiers is all that separates the fireball spell from the flamethrower.

Maybe this categorization of how Magic Systems might compare in the game will help:

Resource-based, Fixed Direction : The Mage casts spells controlled solely by the resource : Blue Power Crystals make a Create Water Spells, and only those.  Blue-White Crystals make Ice Storm Spells, and only those.

Skill-Based, Fixed Direction : The Mage uses a Fortune Mechanic modified by various things to determine whether or not the spell (chosen from a fixed list of effects) was successful.  The Mage can continue to do this as often as the skill roll (*) is successful.

Resource-based, Open Direction : The Mage casts spells powered by how much of Resource X they want to sacrifice.  The form of the spell is chosen at casting time Example "I use 3 Blue Water Crystals, and cast a strength 3 Water spell.  I want the water to wash out the stables."

Skill-Based, Open Direction : The mage uses a modified Fortune mechanic to determine if the casting was successful, and describes the effect at the time of casting.  

Note that many games limit magic by both Resources and Skills.  For example, a caster might need to succeed at a Casting Roll and have the necessary Components.  

So in this model, AD&D says that a "level 3" spell slot is a daily resource, which the player can allocate to casting a Fireball or a Cure Serious Wounds, but only to an effect chosen of one of the available listings.  It's Resource-Based, Fixed Direction, with a few exceptions (Clerics & Healing Spells).  But I don't remember any roll to cast spells, unless it's a Concentration roll to avoid being distracted.
also:
White Wolf's Mage is a Skill-Based, Open Direction system.

So what would Sorcerer be?  or Multiverser, using these distinctions?  Or one of the other indie-games be?

-Fred

(*) note my inherent default to "Skill Roll."  This could just as easily be any other Fortune Mechanic, meaning there is a chance of failure.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2004, 10:52:31 PM »

I think the point of Clarke's Law (which I think you stated accurately) is actually supposed to be that there is no magic, just science that we haven't yet understood. An example that points this direction would be that after Sir Isaac Newton expounded his laws of motion explaining that the planets did not move around the sun because angels were pushing them in their orbits but because of the law of conservation of momentum he had just presented, he then proceeded to say that he had moved the angels from behind the planets to outside them, in essence using a supernatural explanation for gravity once he had eliminated it for motion. Clarke would point to comments like this and observe that "magical" answers were used to explain anything not yet understood scientifically, and thus that there really was no magic at all.

Rev. Daegmorgan and I would of course disagree with Clarke.

I would also tend to agree with Ben that natural laws very much matter to the outworking of magic, if that's what he is saying. That is, the source of the fire falling from the sky is divine, but the fact that the sacrifice, the altar, and all the water in the trench around it are "consumed" by the fire is a perfectly natural outcome, and if anyone's standing too close, there's a good chance that their clothes will catch fire, too. The cause may be supernatural, but the effects are quite predictable within the natural world.

That doesn't mean I can't accept effects that don't make sense given current science, though. I've elsewhere (more than one place, I believe) proposed that in magic, cold and dark are not the absence of energy but competing energy that opposes heat and light. I've given consideration to radiant darkness and non-radiant light, neither of which make sense in our understanding of physics but both of which should be possible within fantasy magic, at least.

Quote from: Fred Garber
So what would Sorcerer be?  or Multiverser, using these distinctions?

Multiverser would be skill based, but it is both Fixed and Open in direction.

It's open, because in any situation at any moment any character who believes in magic can attempt to create any spell that does anything. His chance of success is dependent on a slew of things--how much magic he already knows (as measured by bias--what is the highest biased skill he knows, the one that is "most magical" in a sense defined in the game), his innate ability for magic (one of his attributes, the best of a specific three), the world's bias in relation to magic, the bias of the magic he's trying to do, how much effort he's put into it (time and resources, e.g., physical involvement, material components) and the amount of power he's trying to get out of it, whether he's ever seen anything like it done before and/or gotten any instruction in how to do something like this. The chance that he can successfully "learn" to do that at this moment is calculated and the dice rolled, and if it's successful, he just taught himself how to do this.

At that point, it becomes fixed. As long as he does that same thing (even in different situations) pretty much the same way, he can get better at doing that. So if he called fire down on the altar to consume the sacrifice, and later he wants to call fire down on the soldiers who have come to arrest him, he does essentially the same thing and the same thing happens. The more he does that that way, the better he becomes at it, the easier it is to do, and the more powerful it gets. If he would rather, he can create a different spell/skill that does the same thing, so it's always open; but he can also do anything he's done before, so it's always fixed.

Make sense?

I'll let someone else speak to Sorcerer.

--M. J. Young
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The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
Member

Posts: 16


« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2004, 04:42:13 PM »

Hello all.  I'm glad that my piece sparked some discussion, which is what I had intended.  I also very much intend to reply, but have been a bit distracted of late by the birth of my daughter.  Strange to say, but I have discovered that there really are some things more engrossing than theorizing, like watching a tiny person pass gas :)

Anyway, I hope that you keep the discussion in mind for a few days, because I 'd like to join in when I get more than 2 minutes at a go.  But I can say, by way of opening remarks, than the definition of magic is the always the sticking point, and no more so for gamers than for people in the real world.  If you haven't read any of the classic Protestant critiques of Catholic ritual, then you should do so with all haste; nothing more clearly expresses the conceptual Bermuda Triangle: magic, religion, and technology.  Or consider Classical Greek discussion of the word "magia" and to whom and what it applies.  It's all good, thought-provoking stuff.

As I see it, one decent definition of magic is "the manipulation of the world through ultra-mudnane means."  Ultra-mundane is preferable to super-natural for a number of reasons, but maybe best because only cultures with a concept of "nature" can have a concept of "above nature".  Thus, you could not explain Antique Babylonian magic as supernatural because there is nothing conceptually for it to be above---all phenomena are the work of divine ativities, whether you want to call that natural or not is not really meaningful.

Manipulation is even more important in that definition, since magic is, as I see it, fundamentally operative; magic always *does* something.  Another way to attempt to define magic is to put it at one end of a scale with something like "speculation" or "dogma" at the other end: magic is practical religion.  Or science.  Honestly, what's the difference?  (Expects large bolts to come flying at him).
 
Thus I find technology to be a useful term here: technology is the practical application of a knowledge through tools.  A computer is a tool, a cyclotron is a tool, a spell is a tool.  And most people don't know how any of them actually work (theory), but they are happy to use them (pratice).

Okay, that was more than I intended.  Anyway, I still think that the soruce of the power is very important, but maybe more on that next time and some more pointed responses to the interesting things folks have said.  But somebody needs a diaper change now.
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I have this wonderful plan for world domination. Pretty much. At least in theory. Or some ideas, at any rate.

O.K., I've got nothing.
simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2004, 02:06:52 AM »

First of all, congratulations. My daughter was born only 7 months ago (first child).

Quote from: The Fiendish Dr. Samsara
Okay, that was more than I intended.  Anyway, I still think that the soruce of the power is very important, but maybe more on that next time and some more pointed responses to the interesting things folks have said.  But somebody needs a diaper change now.


I don't think the source of power needs to be important, depending on the kind of rules structure you want. For example in the real world, nobody actualy knows for sure, or at least can prove whether the power of magic actualy comes from an external source, internaly from the magician, etc. Therefore any magic system based on real world magic shouldn't make that plain. Some game systems do have simulationist mechanics where characters have precisely enumerated magic resources in various forms and spell effects with precise ranges and effects that are testable by the characters, but IMHO these are crude and unsatisfactory. They are incapable of producing the colour, richness and intricacies we see in historical and present day magical theory and practice.

IMHO game systems that focus on resolving outcomes rather than simulating causes have proven their superiority in recent years. I'd rather put discussions of magical metaphysics where they belong, in the game setting rather than in the game rules.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
clehrich
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Posts: 1557


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« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2004, 05:10:07 AM »

I think Dr. Samsara's list can be taken as a set of perspectives on what underlies magical activity; this entails that a number of these cannot be true or exist simultaneously.  The natural/unnatural/supernatural thing, for example, depends on what you mean by "nature."  At the same time, I think drawing this distinction consistently, as Dr. Samsara does, undercuts the value of the categorization.

Let me make some sketch definitions from early modern Europe, and then expand a bit on larger principles.  I'll put in some notes at the end for those who care about the historical versions.

Early Modern Europe

Three Worlds
There is the sublunary world, i.e. ours.  There is the celestial, which extends from the sphere of the Moon to the sphere of fixed stars (i.e. stars and not planets, but not including the sun).  Then there is the divine, which extends beyond that.  Forget about devils for the moment; I'll get back to them.

1. Natural Magic
Natural magic is dependent upon the manipulation of occult forces present in nature.  Nature here means the sublunary world.  An occult force is one with no sensible mechanism, which can only be defined by its effects.  For example, gravity or magnetism is an occult force: there is no way to detect it sensibly, in that you cannot see, feel, hear, taste, or touch gravity; all you can do is drop a ball and notice that it does indeed fall.  This is by contrast to, for example, wind: when the trees shake, we can feel the wind moving as well.  An occult force is non-sensible, and really until Newton the general sense is that occult forces are somehow of a different sort than are sensible forces, because forces are categorized by means rather than effects; Newton's mathematical formulations will shift this so that all forces are classified by effects, blurring the distinction between occult and sensible forces.  Interestingly, Newton still used the terminology.

A classic example of natural magic is this: if you have two harps tuned the same way, and you put them near each other, and then you play a note on one harp, the corresponding string on the other harp begins to vibrate all by itself.  There is an occult force of harmony or sympathy here (we now call this harmonic vibration, which is not coincidental), and by setting up the experiment and striking the string we manipulate this occult force as we like.  This is natural magic.  

Natural magic is commonly used for things like medicine.  A plant has the power to make someone sleepy, but there is nothing sensible in the plant that makes it so.  Therefore to drug someone with opium, for example, is natural magic.

Natural magic was licit, theologically speaking.  It invoked no dangerous powers, and simply accepted the world as God made it, indeed celebrating the wonders which He placed within this Creation.

2. Celestial/Mathematical Magic
This magic manipulates the forces of the celestial world, i.e. the forces of the planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) and to some extent the fixed stars.  Astrology goes here, for example.

Now the thing is that in a Neoplatonic conception, the planetary spheres are also controlled and run by demons -- note, not devils.  They have no specific moral value, but are in effect semi-intelligent forces that just follow the orders of God as He placed them in the universe.

If I have a golden talisman here on earth, that talisman is automatically connected to the Sun by means of invisible (occult) "rays" that project downward from the Sun -- you know it's the Sun because it's gold, and gold is solary.  Therefore if I want to draw the effects of the Sun into this world, I can use a golden talisman.

Again, thinking medically.  Suppose the patient suffers from melancholia, a kind of depression (to be simplistic).  Now true melancholia happens because the influence of Saturn is very strong, and overpowers other influences.  This may be because of someone's natal (birth) horoscope, but it may happen for other reasons.  The power of Saturn can be tempered by the Sun; this is one of the things that distinguishes between the suicidal and the genius, which is why so many geniuses are so temperamental and may commit suicide.  So if I have a melancholic patient, I want him to draw solary power into his life in considerable quantity.  I make a golden talisman with the names and images appropriate for the Sun, and I have him wear it.  I tell him to wear bright colors, go out in the sun a lot, and generally participate in "bright" activities: daytime romps as opposed to staying in behind curtains, etc.  Note that this may well work for the depressive, as a side note.

Celestial magic of this sort was a problem for theological classification.  Insofar as it used demonic forces, i.e. intelligent beings, as a mechanism, it was totally illicit; insofar as it drew on the natural influences of the stars, it was totally licit.  So it really depended on exactly how open you were about the demons part, and how you formulated your magic.  Marsilio Ficino's talismanic magic is a good example of this fine line.

3. Religious/Ceremonial Magic
This is about contacting demons from the divine sphere, which is to say angels or devils.  You may ask them to do something, or you may simply wish to participate in their nature, making yourself more like them.  The trick is that such beings are by an Aristotelian conception totally beyond us, superior to us in every way; by a Neoplatonic conception, they are subordinate to us, because God made us in His image, and didn't make them so, and there's a reason for that, and similarly His son the Logos was incarnated as a human man, not as an angel, which should tell us something about the special providence afforded to mankind.

Deliberately contacting and manipulating devils is 100% illicit, but that's not to say it's ineffective.  One argument says that these things are so dishonest and evil that there's no winning with them, so any deliberate or even unsuspected contact with them puts you in danger.  Another says that it's not a question of danger: unless your sole purpose in contacting them is to destroy them, as with exorcism, you have already committed a terrible sin and will certainly burn for it; signing your name to a contract is just icing on the cake.

Contacting angels is by many theories perfectly reasonable, but you have this problem that it's extremely likely to throw you into the Cardinal sin of Pride: who says you, in particular, are important and worthy enough to distract an angel from his proper tasks?  If you think you are sufficiently worthy, you are ipso facto not worthy, because that's one hell of a big kind of pride.  And if you set out to summon, let's say, Gabriel, and you aren't worthy (because of pride, for example), then either nothing will happen or, far worse, a devil will come and pretend to be Gabriel and deceive you.

If you accept the straight Aristotelian thing, however, you have no right to be talking to angels anyway unless they contact you, because you are lesser than they.

4. Witchcraft
Special powers granted by a pact with Satan, intended or otherwise.  Transforms the person into a servant of Satan, deliberately opposed to the kingdom of Christ, a traitor within the gates, a terrorist assassin among us.  Burn them before they seduce others -- because Satan is very seductive.

------------

Now having drawn up short sketch versions of these distinctions, what are the implications more broadly for gaming?

A. Natural
If by "nature" you mean the entirety of the universe, then all magic, like everything else, is natural.  As someone said, if it works, it's natural.  But in that case, the term is worthless.  In Europe, at least, "natural" did not mean "it works" -- it meant that the forces involved were from within nature, which was not a given.  Miracle, for example, is precisely not natural, and does not obey natural law.

B. Manipulating Entities
The point is what these entities are, what their purposes may be, and what their moral position.  If you can control animals because the nature of nature ensures that you are superior to them, this is natural.  If you can control them only as equals, through contracts or whatever, then you must deal with the fact that they too are intelligent beings and have some status in the universe.

C. Superior Technology
As M.J. pointed out, Clarke's point was that "magic" doesn't exist; it's simply how others may perceive our technology.  If you like this definition, you've shifted "magic" into "that which we do not understand but can make work."

D. The Magician's Progress
A common object here is the progression of the magician towards higher ends.  This usually depends on some explicit analogy drawn between the magician and his status and some structures and symbols of the cosmos.  Alchemy, for example, intends the transmutation of the alchemist's soul by drawing an analogy between the current state of the soul to the base metal in the crucible; when the metal becomes gold the soul too becomes gold.  This all depends further on an analogy between the crucible and the universe: the cycle of planets and so forth observed within the crucible matches a progression in the cosmos and ensures that the transmutation follows divine law.

E. Inherent Power
This essentially does not exist in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), as we are all created equal in the eyes of God.  But many cultures do claim that some people are created special in some sense.  For them, the exercise of magical power depends on this special gift, which may be of whatever status is appropriate.  For example, among the Zande, witches are born with a special organ called a mangu right next to the gall bladder, and because of this their bad intentions towards others actually affect the world.  This is nobody's fault, and what we do is figure out who the witch is and then have that person hedge himself around with all sorts of protections to ensure that his power doesn't slip out again.  If he decides to act on this deliberately, that is now a crime and can be dealt with as such.

F. Channeled Forces
A special kind of magic -- not called magic in Europe at all -- is when higher forces use a person as a channel for power.  In Europe, the higher force is God, and the person so used is a saint.  Such a person in a sense does not exist at the time the power is used; he simply stands as a vessel for the Divine.

G. Miracle
Again sticking to the European version, miracle is a special use of power by God that ignores all rules.  Substances can be transformed, which cannot happen in nature, and so forth.  God made the rules, and He can break them when He likes.  Sometimes He explains why, and creates special rules: for example, in Catholic sacraments, God reaches down through the established ritual means and creates a transmutation of a soul or a substance (in the Eucharist), as He promised to do when Jesus walked the earth.

I don't know if any of this helps, but I think we're beating around the bushes for definitions based on very little.  Dr. Samsara has made a good start, but I think if we're going to go further we need to delve into the clever constructions of people who've been thinking about this for rather longer and in a more sophisticated manner.

One final note: the remark about modern occultists and the natural.  I think this is quite wrong, except for certain types of Neopagans who visualize the universe as entirely subject to natural laws.  For them, the manipulation of power has to do with reenacting the nature of nature.  For the Golden Dawn folks, however, or the OTO (Crowleyites), the manipulation is not precisely natural.

References:
D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (1958); reprint (University Park, PA: Penn. State UP, 2000).
Christopher I. Lehrich, The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
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Chris Lehrich
simon_hibbs
Member

Posts: 678


« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2004, 09:02:02 AM »

Lovely post Chris.

One theory knocking about during that time was that a magician could gain power over elemental beings, spirits, angels and demons by balancing all the constituent elements, or humours within him. This ideal state was identified with Adam Kadmon, the perfect man created by god to be the natural ruler of the cosmos before the Fall. This was of course as much a spiritual as a physical perfection, but many students of the occult lost sight of the goal of spiritual balance in their search for power. One theory is that the Golem was an attempt to create a physicaly perfect being, and you could build a superhero mythology on the concept of alchemicaly perfecting the human body.

For those interested in incorporating elements like this in ther gaming, GURPS Cabal is worth checking out.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
BPetroff93
Member

Posts: 114


« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2004, 10:18:59 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
For the Golden Dawn folks, however, or the OTO (Crowleyites), the manipulation is not precisely natural.


You could always ask one of us :)  Seriously though this thread is quite interesting in it's evolution, it's gone from a classification system of RPG magic to disscussions of "real" magick theory.  As evidenced by the religion birthday thread, Forgites are a pretty diverse lot, so I'm sure that plenty of us could wax philosophical.  My question is, do we want to go there?  If so, I'd be MORE than happy to blather on, but before I open my big trap how "real" do we want to get?  

BTW Clehrich the term is "Thelemite" not "Crowleyite", similar in concept to calling a Muslim a "Mohammadean"  The difference being worship of the person, rather than the philosophy he is connected with, no worries though  :)
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Brendan J. Petroff

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Love is the law, love under Will.
clehrich
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Posts: 1557


WWW
« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2004, 03:28:31 PM »

Quote from: BPetroff93
Seriously though this thread is quite interesting in it's evolution, it's gone from a classification system of RPG magic to disscussions of "real" magick theory.  As evidenced by the religion birthday thread, Forgites are a pretty diverse lot, so I'm sure that plenty of us could wax philosophical.  My question is, do we want to go there?  If so, I'd be MORE than happy to blather on, but before I open my big trap how "real" do we want to get?
My purpose, anyway, was not to suggest that RPG magic systems need to fit historical ones.  Rather, I thought that a set of distinctions were being debated -- notably natural vs. unnatural -- without the recognition that this stuff has been hashed over again and again in many contexts.  I see reinventing the wheel as a waste of time when many different, quite sophisticated wheels are already on sale readily at your local bookshop.  Making absolute statements about what magic is or isn't is pointless.  Dr. Samsara brought up a potential classification, which I thought was interesting if rather sketchy, a point he made as well.  But some of the responses sought to find the correct answer to how magic should be classified, which is quite a different animal.  So I thought by sketching a very few ideas about magic and its classification, from a single society and period, I might bring us back to Dr. Samsara's initial object of classification and potential structures for RPG design of magic systems.
Quote
BTW Clehrich the term is "Thelemite" not "Crowleyite", similar in concept to calling a Muslim a "Mohammadean"  The difference being worship of the person, rather than the philosophy he is connected with, no worries though  :)
Yes, I do know that.  But I figured that most readers would not, and thought it might be useful to bring Crowley's name in so people would know what what being referred to.  I apologize if you were bothered by the term; I was unaware that "Crowleyite" had such a negative connotation to modern Thelemites.  For example, there are actually a fair number of Muslims who quite like the term "Mohammedan"; conversely, the famous notion that those from the Netherlands hate the term "Dutch" because it means German is something that has always boggled my Netherlandish friends -- they all seem to think it's a notion invented by Americans, and news to the Dutch themselves.  So at any rate, I did not intend offense, but was genuinely unaware of the problematic nature of the term.
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Chris Lehrich
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